You don’t have to be anyone else’s baggage handler.
|In some work situations, it is necessary to share a client’s burdens in order to understand their needs. So, for instance, in cases of divorce and family break up, in disputes over children, or abuse, or bereavement, a lawyer or therapist might have to listen to some traumatic accounts to discern how best to help. But this can be much more than they really want to take in for their own mental health. Definitely TMI. Sometimes, the burden of that sharing can carry over into the listener’s life, and can weigh heavily. When people are in the kind of jobs which are recognised as having that kind of risk, whether it is doctors, psychologists or psychotherapists, provision is made for reflective thinking. There are professionals who can help a listener to unpick what they have heard and separate it from the listener’s own life. But what happens when the risk is not recognised, for example with teachers, lawyers, social workers or police officers? Often, the connection is not made and the listener’s own private life can begin to suffer, unless an experienced therapist steps in.
Consider the case of Serge. Serge is a Divorce lawyer, and a rather good one. Consequently, he is in great demand, particularly for high-conflict couples. He started to notice a certain impatience in himself when he was around his family, which he really wasn’t comfortable with. Neither was his family. His eldest son was becoming very quiet and withdrawn, and had begun some OCD behaviours associated with a feeling of not being in control, such as compulsive checking. His 13 year old daughter had become very stroppy, even at school. Things came to a head when his daughter’s school threatened to exclude her after an altercation with a teacher. Serge’s wife blamed his recent temper outbursts. She confronted Serge with his unreasonable behaviour which she said was the root cause of the children’s issues, and demanded they ‘see someone’.
The someone they saw was a family psychotherapist, who, after some conversations, understood that Serge was redirecting his unconscious feelings of anger and frustration away from the source – his clients – to his family. It was clearly not appropriate to show anger or frustration with the client. However, the feelings have to come out somewhere until they are made conscious and properly dealt with. The usual target is those closest to us.
Anyone working with emotional and mental health issues in others could engage in reflective thinking, the formal helping ear of another professional who can support in resetting boundaries. Their job is to aid in regaining or maintaining objectivity, often in the face of the most terrible trauma shared by clients. Someone once described it as ‘engaging an editor’ – a necessary objective eye in the process, with a red pencil to help redefine boundaries.
Rafan House offers one-off or defined series’ of conversations to people in the front line, so they can manage their engagement with clients’ issues. If this might be of interst to you, or to your organization, do contact us to see how we can help. No-one needs to burden those closest to them with someone else’s baggage.